Thursday, September 8, 2022
NFL Weekly Predictions: Week 1
Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.
Buffalo @ Los Angeles Rams (+2½)
After last season's heartbreaking loss in the divisional round to the Chiefs, the Bills enter 2022 motivated to go all the way and give the franchise its first Super Bowl title.
"Sure," Sean McDermott said, "it was devastating. But the city of Buffalo is resilient. They didn't lose hope when the Buffalo Sabres lost the 1999 Stanley Cup finals to the Dallas Stars, or when the Goo Goo Dolls lost the Grammy for Record of the Year to Celine Dion in that same year. They didn't give up, and neither will we. We're going all in this year. It's 'Super Bowl or bust' for us. Given this franchise's history, that could mean 'Super Bowl and bust.'
"We've made the playoffs for the last three years. There's no reason we can't make it four. But really, who in Buffalo wants to hear the words 'There's no reason we can't make it four' uttered?"
The Rams are still basking in the glory of their Super Bowl LIV win, and obviously, the goal in 2022 is to defend that crown.
"Of course it won't be easy," Sean McVay said. "It's going to take hard work, diligence, and mental acuity. It's all about attention to detail. I'm talking about maintenance of my beard. But it will take the same effort for us to repeat as champions.
"With all the trades and signings we made last year, many people said we 'bought' a Super Bowl. If that's the case, then 2022 is the year we 'pay for it.'
"As for my team, there's no need to worry about Matthew Stafford's elbow. If anyone can play while injured, it's Matthew. He's done it throughout his career. Heck, he played for 12 seasons in Detroit, and was 'handicapped' in each of those."
Rams win, 28-26.
New Orleans @ Atlanta (+5½)
The post-Matt Ryan era begins in Atlanta, where Marcus Mariota is the Falcons new quarterback, tasked with improving on the team's 7-10 record in 2022.
"I know I have big shoes to fill," Mariota said. "I've seen Matt's old cleats, because they're prominently memorialized in the locker room, mounted, as you would expect, in wet cement.
"Now, Falcons fans may be asking themselves, 'How the heck is Marcus Mariota going to make us a better team?' Well, this is where Arthur Smith and I disagree on how that will happen. I think I should do as much as I can to make us a better team. Coach Smith thinks I should do as little as possible to make us a better team."
Sean Payton retired as Saints head coach in January, and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen was promoted to replace Payton in February.
"I'm not gonna lie," Allen said, "it's not going to be easy replacing Sean. But really, can you trust anything a Saints coach says after prefacing it with 'I'm not gonna lie?' Probably not.
"Jameis Winston is important to our success, but let me be clear: Alvin Kamara is the leader of this team. He's the heart of this team. He energizes this team. In light of what happened in Las Vegas, I hesitate to call him the team's 'battery,' but he is."
Saints win, 31-21.
Cleveland @ Carolina (-2)
The July 7th trade that sent Baker Mayfield to the Panthers sent shock waves across pretty much nowhere. Now, as Carolina's new leader, Mayfield gets a shot at revenge on the team that drafted, then abandoned him.
"If the Browns want to pay ungodly amounts of money to a deeply-flawed quarterback," Mayfield said, "who am I to question them, because I was once that quarterback? And I still am, just in a different locale.
"But here in Charlotte, I wasn't just looking for a new start, I was looking for a start. And I achieved that goal, by beating out Sam Darnold for the QB job. Name me another NFL quarterback who's had to beat out Sam Darnold for a starting job. There's not one, but if given the chance, there could easily be 32.
"My job here is to lead, limit my mistakes, and get the ball to Christian McCaffrey. Christian is to opposing defenses what soft tissue injuries are to his health — always a threat."
The Browns went all in, trading for Deshaun Watson in March despite the baggage of multiple civil suits. On August 1st, Watson was suspended for six games, a punishment that was increased to 11 games and a $5 million fine after appeal by the league.
"Punishment was the one thing Deshaun didn't want 'stiffened'," Kevin Stefanski said. "But c'est la vie.
"Despite what you might think, we did our homework throughout this Watson ordeal. We conducted tons of interviews, and all of them were with Deshaun.
"Without Deshaun, Jacoby Brissett will be our starter, and honestly, I think we'll be fine with Jacoby. Jacoby doesn't have the physical gifts of Deshaun. Heck, he's really just a satisfactory quarterback. So he brings exactly what this team needs in a QB — a sense of decency."
Panthers win, 24-16.
San Francisco @ Chicago (+7½)
Former Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus was hired in late January, weeks after Matt Nagy's firing ended his four-year tenure in Chicago. Eberflus hopes to unleash second-year quarterback Justin Fields.
"I'm confident I can do what Matt Nagy couldn't," Eberflus said. "What is it, you may ask, that Matt Nagy couldn't do? The answer is 'anything.'
"I can't wait to see what Justin can do for us as the starter. He has all the tools needed to be a great quarterback. However, with our offensive line and receiving corps, we've given him none of the tools needed to be a great quarterback. If Justin is, in fact, ever 'surrounded by talent,' it will be the opposing defenses."
The 49ers offense is now in the hands of second-year quarterback Trey Lance after Kyle Shanahan announced that Lance would start ahead of Jimmy Garappolo.
"This is the end of an era," Kyle Shanahan said. "Or, the beginning of an error. Of course we haven't forgotten that Jimmy led us to a Super Bowl appearance and two NFC championship appearances. I haven't forgotten it; I just choose to ignore it.
"But Trey is a gifted athlete, and it's my job to harness that talent. He's really going to boost our running game, and will be a great complement to the four or five running backs that at one time or another I'll refer to as our 'No. 1 guy' this season."
San Francisco wins, 28-13.
Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati (-4)
The Bengals came up just short in Super Bowl LVI, falling 23-20 to the Rams. But Joe Burrow and his cohorts are determined to prove that 2022 was no fluke.
"We surprised a lot of people last year," Burrow said. "Most notably Joe Mixon when he was benched for some crucial plays during the final drive in the Super Bowl. Personally, I absolutely believe Joe should have been on the field. I vouch for him as a football player. If he wants to use me as a reference for a job in football, I'm all for it. Any other job, no way.
"I've fully recovered from having my appendix removed in early August. I've learned that the appendix as an organ is a lot like Zac Taylor as a coach — relatively useless."
Ben Roethlisberger's retirement ended an era in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers drafted the University of Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett as the heir apparent at quarterback. Pickett will start the season behind Mitch Trubisky on the depth chart.
"First of all," Pickett said, "congratulations to Ben. He's a lock for the Hall of Fame, and he's a lock for a bathroom.
"I'm 100% behind Mitch as the starter. Mike Tomlin says the same thing, because he's absolutely positive I shouldn't be the starter. There's a lot I can learn from Mitch. And if I get my chance, I'll be ready. I plan to grab the bull by the horns, even with my tiny hands."
Bengals win, 27-24.
Philadelphia @ Detroit (+3½)
Detroit's 3-13-1 record was the second-worst in the league last season, but the Lions are poised to prove in 2022 that they can legitimately compete for the NFC North title.
"If I may be so bold," Campbell said, "I predict we will win the NFC North. That means we're going to shock a lot of people, particularly our fans.
"Things are really looking up for this team. Our defense is much improved, we have stars in the making at most skill positions, and there's absolutely no chance a Super Bowl contender would want to trade for our quarterback.
"I'm in Year 2 as head coach, and every player has bought into my philosophy. Buying into a head coach in Detroit is extremely rare, because most Lions coaches are eventually bought out."
The Eagles traded for A.J. Brown, instantly upgrading a wide receiving corps, and are expected to battle with the Cowboys for NFC East superiority.
"The pressure's on Jalen Hurts," said Nick Sirianni. "Everyone knows what he can do with his feet, but what can he do with his right hand? I can think of many things. Hopefully one is not counting the number of passing TD's he has this season.
"We know Dan Campbell will have the Lions ready to play. If you look up 'hard-nosed' in the dictionary, you'll likely find a picture of Dan Campbell. He could tell his players to run through a brick wall, and they'd do it, no questions asked. Conversely, he could tell his team to finish 5-12, and, by god, they'll do it."
Lions win, 28-27.
Indianapolis @ Houston (+7½)
The Colts parted ways with Carson Wentz and traded for Atlanta's Matt Ryan in March, and hopes are high that Ryan can be the elusive solution for Indy at quarterback.
"I honestly think Matt can lead us to the Super Bowl," Frank Reich said. "Now, don't tell him I said that, because any time Matt hears the words 'lead' and 'Super Bowl,' he freaks out.
"But we expect Matt to do great things with his arm, like hand the ball to Jonathan Taylor upwards of 300 times. And maybe throw it a few times."
The Texans turned to Lovie Smith on February 7th, elevating the associate head coach and defensive coordinator to the head coaching position after firing David Culley.
"Hey," Smith said, "I think I'm the best man for the job. Obviously, the Texans wouldn't have hired me if they weren't absolutely confident I could lead this team properly. One thing you should know about this organization is that they never 'settle,' except for just a few minor exceptions.
"We have a dynamic young quarterback in Davis Mills. Sure he's young, but we're not going to put too much pressure on him. We'll do so with a solid running game. In short, we're not going to ask too much of Davis, and we're confident he won't ask too much of anyone, like some Texans QB's have done."
Colts win, 29-24.
New England @ Miami (-3½)
The Patriots have taken a back seat to the Bills in the AFC East, but still only finished a game behind Buffalo in the AFC East. And with Bill Belichick masterminding operations, the Pats are always capable of winning it all.
"I'm not one to toot my own horn," Belichick said, "because I'm not nearly flexible enough.
"But first things first. The Dolphins are my focus, not the Bills. Traditionally, we've had a hard time winning in Miami, as have the Dolphins."
The Dolphins acquired Tyreek Hill from the Chiefs in a blockbuster deal that went down on April 20th. Hill gives Tua Tagovailoa a legitimate deep threat.
"Hey," Tagovailoa said, "I'm thrilled that Tyreek is in Miami. But I'm not the only one. His wife and kids are too, because they stayed in Kansas City.
"People have doubted my ability to throw the deep ball, but, under the guidance of my coaches, I've improved my mechanics. So, add my throwing motion to the long list of things the Dolphins have tampered with."
Dolphins win, 27-17.
Baltimore @ New York Jets (+6)
The Jets 2023 fortunes ride on the arm of second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, who struggled as a rookie. But after a preseason knee injury, Wilson is ready to go against the Ravens.
"Apparently," Robert Saleh said, "Zach has incredible recuperative powers, the kind that impresses trainers as much as it does cougars.
"We're expecting great things from Zach. He is so much better than he was in 2022. He had his issues last year, but I think he's corrected them for the most part. If Zach has one weakness, it's older women."
The Ravens finished 8-9 last season, any hope of a successful season undone by a rash of injuries.
"There are some injuries you just can't recover from," John Harbaugh said. "Those we suffered last year are a good example of that. An even better example would be the injuries suffered by those two guys at the Cobalt Lounge back in 2000. They still haven't recovered.
"Lamar Jackson is fully healthy, and I think is the NFL's most dangerous quarterback on the field. That means the AFC North boasts the league's most dangerous QB on the field and the league's most dangerous QB off the field."
Ravens win, 31-16.
Jacksonville @ Washington (-3½)
Doug Pederson takes over as head coach in Jacksonville, where he'll try to clean up the mess Urban Meyer left, while also continuing the development of second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
"First of all," Pederson said, "it's 'Jag-wars,' not 'Jag-wires.'
"Obviously, Urban wasn't cut out for the NFL. He should have stayed at the Ohio State University, because he was the worst coach in the NFL.
"If anyone doubts that I'm not the right man for the job, may I remind them that there's a statue of me outside Lincoln Financial Stadium in Philadelphia. Of course, they could counter by reminding me how many times it's been urinated on."
The Commanders traded for Carson Wentz in March, and the former Indy QB assumes the role for Washington.
"We hope Carson can be next in the long line of long line of Washington quarterbacks," Ron Rivera said. "We've had many, many starters, but few, if any, finishers.
"We're not asking Carson to be someone he's not. We're just asking him to be himself, and more specifically, the 2017 version of himself.
"Hopefully, our home-field advantage will be the difference against the Jags. You can't talk about 'hostile environments' without starting with FedEx Field, and particularly the offices within that complex, and more particularly, any of those offices that Daniel Snyder is in."
Jaguars win, 25-21.
Kansas City @ Arizona (+4½)
The Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins in March, and K.C. added JuJu Smith-Shuster and Marques Valdez-Scantling in free agency to fill the gap.
"Personally," Patrick Mahomes said, "I was shocked, not that Tyreek left, but that we were able to replace him with two wide receivers with hyphenated last names. JuJu and Marques were big names in free agency, and we nabbed them, and for a Tyreek Hill-depleted wide receiver corps, it was a 'hot Chief injection.'
"Obviously, anything short of a Super Bowl win will be a disappointment for us. But I'm committed to doing everything I can to help us achieve that goal. If that means putting in at least four hours of film study every week, I'll do it, but only if I'm contractually obligated."
Kyler Murray signed a $230.5 million, five-year extension on July 21st, a contract that initially stipulated that he must study film at least four hours every week. It was later stricken from the contract.
"I resent the insinuation that I don't do my homework," Murray said. "Especially since it's true. The whole situation has just been a huge distraction, to me and the whole team. Some would describe this situation in Arizona as a 'hot mess.' I won't dispute that, but I'll contend that at least the humidity is low.
"We'll be without DeAndre Hopkins for our first 6 games as he serves a PED suspension. A lot of people think we can't win without DeAndre. They think this team without DeAndre is like this team with Kliff Kingsbury — likely to lose."
Mahomes throws for 323 yards and 3 TDs, and the Chiefs win, 31-28.
Las Vegas @ Los Angeles Chargers (-3½)
The Raiders finished 10-7 and made the playoffs last season, and hope the addition of Davante Adams, coupled with new head coach Josh McDaniels, will take them to the next level.
"Davante can't do it all by himself," McDaniels said. "The upgrade that he is to our wide receiver corps will almost certainly be counterbalanced by the unfamiliarity of having someone other than an arrogant prick throwing to him.
"I'm thrilled to have this opportunity in Oakland. And I think the Raiders are thrilled to have me. When I signed that contract back in January, the first thing the Raiders probably said was 'Hallelujah!' Actually, that was the second thing they said. The first was probably, 'I hope he doesn't back out of this deal two hours later.'"
The Chargers finished 9-8 in the AFC West, missing out on the playoffs. But Justin Herbert is determined to carry his team to the playoffs and beyond.
"It certainly won't be easy in this division," Brandon Staley said. "The AFC West is loaded. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the AFC West was also 'loaded,' but only because Ken Stabler and his whiskey were in the division."
Raiders win, 29-27.
Green Bay @ Minnesota (+1½)
The Packers championship hopes again ride on the shoulders of 2022 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, who may be expected to do even more due to the loss of Davante Adams, who bolted for Las Vegas.
"That was Aaron's third MVP award," Matt LaFleur said. "Aaron collects accolades like Brett Favre collects fraudulent welfare, or Vicodin, or copper-infused clothing, or single Super Bowl wins.
"But I've learned to never doubt Aaron in September, and to always doubt him in January. But he'll always do what it takes to win. If that means demeaning young receivers, then that's what he'll do."
The Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a one-year contract extension in March which will pay Cousins $40 million in 2022 and $30 million in 2023.
"That's a lot of money," Kevin O'Connell said. "Did we overpay? I think so. And others agree. Just ask former head coach Mike Zimmer; he thinks Kirk is worth less.
Vikings win, 31-24.
New York Giants @ Tennessee (-6)
The Titans lost Derrick Henry to injury for the season on November 1st, but still earned the AFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Tennessee was booted in the divisional round by the Bengals.
"There's two questions we have to ask ourselves," Mike Vrabel said. "One, will Derrick return to his old form? And two, how in the hell were we the No. 1 seed last year?
"If there's anything we learned in 2021, it's that you should never doubt Ryan Tannehill's ability to throw ... the game away in the playoffs. But I think we remedied that by trading away A.J. Brown. Now, Ryan really has no reason to throw the ball. This may be the first time in history in which opposing defenses and the offensive coordinator both dare the quarterback to throw the ball."
The Giants finished in the NFC East cellar last season, but the hiring of Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has ignited a level of optimism not seen in New York since
"My goal is to make Giants fans forget about Joe Judge," Daboll said. "Fortunately for the Giants, Joe Judge is in New England, where he's engaged in a battle with Matt Patricia to see who can first derail the Patriots season.
"But we're facing a lot of questions. One being 'On which foot will Saquon Barkley eventually have a walking boot — the left or right?' Another being, 'Is Daniel Jones our franchise quarterback?' Even another being, 'Is Daniel Jones a quarterback?'"
Titans win, 27-24.
Tampa Bay @ Dallas (+1½)
Tom Brady retired on February 1st and then unretired 40 days later, citing "unfinished business." After leaving practice for two weeks in August, Brady returned in late August.
"I just don't think I can function without competition," Brady said. "I want another Super Bowl. I guess the big question for me is: which comes first: retirement, or my next Super Bowl win? Another question could be: which comes first: retirement, or my first colonoscopy?
"We signed Julio Jones in late July. Does having Julio on the team help us? Maybe not. But I'll tell you what, 'it doesn't hurt.' And those are three words you'll probably never hear Julio say again."
The Cowboys suffered another disappointing end to a season, losing at home to the 49ers in the divisional round. But Mike McCarthy is back as head coach for his third season and under pressure to win.
"And I've got Jerry Jones' vote of confidence," McCarthy said. "He's told me my job is safe. Safe from what he did not say. I hope he means safe from the irrational decisions of a semi-senile near-80-year-old billionaire desperate to recapture the glory he once enjoyed going on near three decades ago.
"But really, it's all about expectations. I mean, we're the Dallas Cowboys. Are we going to have a disappointing playoff exit, or are we going to have a disappointing pre-playoff exit?"
Cowboys win, 30-27.
Denver @ Seattle (+5½)
The Broncos traded for Russell Wilson in March, and will face his former team when Denver, under the guidance of new head coach Nathanial Hackett, travels to Seattle on Monday night.
"We just signed Russell to a massive contract extension," Hackett said. "Soon, I guess we'll find out who's better at throwing — us and money, or Russell and a football.
"Hopefully, Russell can play like he did before he suffered the thumb injury last year. We much rather have 'Danger-Russ' than 'Danger-Rust.'"
The Seahawks begin the post-Russell Wilson era with journeyman Geno Smith as the starting quarterback.
"I wish Russell nothing but the best in Denver," Pete Carroll said. "I'm sure they'll 'let Russell cook' there. Here? We've got to decide if we're even going to let Geno Smith in the kitchen. Drew Lock? I don't think he should even be in the restaurant business."
Broncos win, 26-19.